Former P.M Netanyahu has made sure that Saudi Arabia can use NSO's Pegasus spyware

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by Ifi Reporter Category:Law Jan 28, 2022

Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made sure that Saudi Arabia can use NSO's Pegasus spyware near the time the "Abraham agreements" were signed with the United Arab Emirates. This was reported today (Friday) by the New York Times, in an article also signed by Yedioth Ahronoth journalist Ronen Bergman. According to the report, Israel has used the control of the Ministry of Defense to issue licenses for software that will assist its foreign relations. For example, Panama and Mexico changed their votes against Israel at the UN after receiving permission from Israel to use NSO software.
In addition, the newspaper reported that the FBI had purchased a version of Pegasus from NSO - and it was installed on the organization's computers in June 2019, but was ultimately not used. In the past year, the U.S. has defined the NSO as a company that threatens its national security.

According to the New York Times, Israel has provided countries in the Persian Gulf - including the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia - with a license to use Pegasus software even before the Abrahamic Accords. One month after the agreement with the Emirates, Saudi Arabia's license expired - and the Israeli Ministry of Defense refused to extend it following reports of human rights abuses by the kingdom. Without the license, NSO could not provide Saudi Arabia with routine maintenance, and the systems collapsed. Advisers to Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman spoke with the Mossad and the Ministry of Defense but were unable to resolve the issue.
At this point, Ben Salman himself called then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu - and asked to renew Pegasus' license. Ben Salman had significant leverages: Saudi Arabia did not condemn the Abrahamic agreements, and it also allowed Israeli planes to use Saudi airspace on their way to the Persian Gulf.
Saudi Arabia's permit for Israel to fly over its airspace was significant: thanks to it, flights from Israel to Abu Dhabi can be made without "diplomatic stops" in a third country such as Jordan, Egypt or Cyprus, making the direct flight from Israel to the Emirates last about three hours.
After the conversation with Ben Salman, Netanyahu ordered the Ministry of Defense to rectify the problem immediately - and that night a source in the ministry called NSO's operations room to reactivate the Saudi systems. Shortly afterwards, and following Netanyahu's direct order, Pegasus operated again in Saudi Arabia - although not all documents were signed properly.
Years earlier, the NSO's ethics committee had ruled that Saudi Arabia would not be able to use Pegasus, following the assassination of journalist Jamal Khushkji - which Western intelligence agencies attributed to the regent himself. The committee also recommended that the NSO reject another request by the Israeli government to connect Saudi Arabia to the system.
Pegasus, it will be recalled, is a spyware (spyware) that can be planted on both Android and iPhone devices, and it is capable of turning the smartphone into a spy tool for everything. Those who have taken control of the device remotely can retrieve files from it, turn on the camera and microphone, access the device's location, view contacts and calendar, and follow the correspondence in the messaging apps and the activity on social networks. NSO says that in case of suspicion of abuse, it can access the customer's system in order to conduct an investigation into the matter. The company has previously stated that it disconnected customers following misuse of the product.
A former Netanyahu military adviser said the former prime minister had clearly explained how NSO's software aids Israel's foreign relations. "When our Ministry of Defense controls the way these systems rotate, we can take advantage of them and reap diplomatic gains," the adviser was quoted as saying. For example, the New York Times reported that Mexico, in its ongoing fight against drug cartels, sought to use Pegasus - and the Department of Defense authorized the NSO to sell it the software even though the U.S. National Security Agency recommended giving it only sporadic access to it. Shortly afterwards, the Mexicans managed to break into the cell phone of a man close to drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.
Netanyahu's office said in response that "the claim that Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke to foreign leaders and offered them these systems in exchange for a political achievement or some other achievement is a complete lie. All sales of this system or similar products by Israeli companies to foreign countries are approved and supervised by the Ministry of Defense." As required by Israeli law. "
The New York Times noted that while Pegasus software helped capture El Chapo, thwart terrorist plots and bring down a global network of child abuse, it did mention that in 2019, when NSOs installed the software in a building used by the FBI in New Jersey , Was already known about the problematic uses that countries made of the software. For example, it was noted that Mexico used software against journalists and politicians, the UAE used it to hack into the phone of a civil rights activist who was thrown in jail, Saudi Arabia used it against women rights activists and more.

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